Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Down in the dumps

A huge and empty mill, one of many along the canal here
Back in the long gone days when I was a motoring hack I went to the launch of the Austin Princess, a vision of ugliness that was yet another nail in the coffin of the British motor industry.
A witty fellow hack summed it up with pithy precision: "It looks like the chap who designed the front and the chap who designed the back weren't talking to each other".
I could say that about the Leeds Liverpool Canal. It is, as they say in football, a game of two halves. And I can't help but think that the chap who designed the Yorkshire side and the one who designed the Lancashire side where we are now weren't on speaking terms.
The Yorkshire side runs through glorious countryside along almost all its route; it actually seems to avoid centres of industry (of which there are plenty). It challenges the boater with staircase locks and swing bridges.
Across the county border, the Lancashire side seems to gravitate towards industry; purposefully aim itself through the nastiest of it. And it squirms and twists about to keep locks to the minimum - saving them all up for Wigan at the end.
An oasis of charm among the industry
So one drops down from the Barrowford locks with a bump. Metaphorically. Gone are the distant views of green hills. Instead the canal is trapped between the now semi derelict Victorian warehouses of Nelson that harbour mechanics' workshops, tile depots, builders' yards and merely pigeons, and pressing it on the other side - out of sight but never out of earshot the M65 motorway.
It's a sorry mess and even the cheery waves of the brightly dressed Asian ladies on the towpath can't do much to lift the mood. Only a few days ago we were up in those glorious Pennines.
There is just one spot where Nelson lifts its head and smiles back to the boater: rows of terraced houses along cobbled streets drop down to a tree edged mooring spot, with a church spire beyond. It looks unchanged from the days when the canal began, and probably is - apart from the inevitable double glazed windows.
I had moored and walked through the streets there to find a supermarket on a previous trip: they teemed with little Asian kids out on the roads playing games of cricket. Just as kids had been doing for a hundred years.
Down at the water's edge, an elderly householder in a union jack tee-shirt toiled in the immaculate garden of his small house, where another ensign flew on a flagpole. I'm not sure he felt comfortable with the changes he'd seen. If that's so, it's a shame.
Burnley, fine old buildings can't hide the depression
And now we are in Burnley, a town whose whole purpose for existence disappeared with the death of its cotton weaving industry. In the town centre fine old Victorian stone buildings are interspersed with the worst of 1970s concrete-and-cladding development. It's not a pretty sight.
Tomorrow we will be on the edge of Blackburn and then comes Chorley and then Wigan. As I said, this is a canal of two halves.

1 comment:

  1. Something had to come first. the Princess may have looked odd but look at many of the cars that followed and those lines of sloping front and cut off back found there way onto many cars and still hinted at today. I guess it was the same with canals it had to start somewhere and didn't industrial Lancashire's development follow the canals...without those mills and warehouses I guess the Ribble valley would be rather idyllic.